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Yogi Adityanath, Hindu revivalist with winning ways

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New Delhi– Yogi Adityanath, the new chief minister of India’s politically crucial Uttar Pradesh state, is described as a “superhero who will lead the Hindu reawakening” in a website run by his followers.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won recent elections to the state legislature in Uttar Pradesh with a sweeping majority, chose Adityanath to lead the state for the next five years, including during general elections in 2019.

Born as Ajay Singh Bisht on June 5, 1972, in a village in the hill state of Uttarakhand, then a part of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath studied math at a local university.

Religiously inclined from an early age, Ajay then joined his guru Mahant Avaidyanath Maharaj at the Gorakhnath temple and monastery. He was 21. He took the name of Yogi Adityanath and underwent further training in Hindu scriptures and rituals.

The Gorakhnath temple and monastery is an influential religious institution located near Uttar Pradesh’s border with Nepal. Its central shrine is said to contain the remains of ancient saint and yogi Baba Gorakhnath.

In 2014, Adityanath took over as mahant, or head priest, of the temple after the death of his guru, who had played a prominent role in the demolition of the 16th Babri mosque in 1992 by Hindu fanatics.

Following in his guru’s footsteps, Adityanath too contested elections and is a five-time member of parliament with a record of winning every election he has fought.

In 1998, at the age of 26, he became the youngest lawmaker in the Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament.

Adityanath is known for his powerful oratory and was a star campaigner of the BJP in the recent elections.

While revival of Hindu religion and culture has always been top of the agenda for the Gorakhnath temple head priest, he has also repeatedly talked of ways in which India’s majority Hindus are threatened by its minority Muslim population.

Among these are his repeated calls to young Hindu men to resist what he terms “love jihad” – which he describes as a ploy through which young Muslim men lure young Hindu women into marriage and conversion to Islam – or his warnings that the fast growing Muslim population will soon outstrip Hindus.

Adityanath has consistently campaigned for the building of a temple to Hindu god Ram at the site of the demolished Babri mosque, where legend says the god was born.

In 2005, Adityanath led a ghar wapasi (coming home) programme under which he claims to have converted over 1,000 Christians back to Hinduism.

His fiery rhetoric has been branded communal and divisive by critics and there are cases against him and a youth organization he started for provoking enmity between communities and attempted murder.

Adityanath dismisses these in media interviews, saying they are manufactured by his political opponents.

In Gorakhpur district Yogi Adityanath is a star. He is seen as a problem-solver and as invested in the region.

-dpa